You will find an introduction and outline to 2 Samuel, here.

A prayer to use before you read from the Book of Common Worship:

God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

An Outline of 2 Samuel, from Birch and Gunn:

A. David’s Kingdom Established 1:1-8:18: Saul dies and David becomes king of both Judah and Israel. Jerusalem, which is between the two regions is the capital. Many of the questions and issues from 1 Samuel are resolved in this section.

I. 2 Samuel 1:1-5:10 David Becomes King: This is the final part of the story of how David becomes king.Scholars think these chapters may have been an independent text that was included into the larger Deuteronomistic history. These chapters present David as the legitimate king.

1:1-27 The News of Saul’s Death: We are given another report of Saul’s death. This report is different than the version in 1 Samuel 31. These may be stories from two different sources or it may be that the Amalekite is not telling the truth and brings this story and the royal insignia to David to win favor and perhaps a reward. Notice what David’s response is to Saul’s death. He does not feel relief or celebrate; David grieves for Saul. The questions and answers remind us of 1 Sam 4:12-18 when a messenger brings Eli the news that Israel was defeated, the ark captured and his sons killed. Amalekites had a history of animosity to Israel and to Saul and David. David has not struck Saul because Saul was the Lord’s anointed one. But an Amalekite has. The Amalekite is killed for his actions. These verses end with David innocent of any guilt in Saul’s death and possessing the symbols of royal authority.

Verses 17-27 are David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. Even though in 1 Samuel we read about the conflict between Saul and David, Saul was king and his loss was significant to David and to Israel. Jonathan was, of course, the crown prince in addition to being David’s close friend. This poem is a dirge or lament. It honors the dead and there is no mention of God. The Book of Jashar is also mentioned in Josh 10:12-13 where a poem is quoted from it. The Book of Jashar may have been an anthology of poems, but it is lost to us. “Jashar” means “the Upright” or “the Just” and so may have been a book of poems honoring heroic deeds. The word translated as glory in v19 can also mean beauty or honor or splendor. It is not the usual Hebrew word which is translated as glory. In verses 25 and 26 David speaks of Jonathan. The verb “to love” often is used in connection to covenant partners and signifies commitment. Some wonder if this statement suggests a same sex relationship between David and Jonathan. The text does not point us one way or the other. There is of course other texts which concern David’s relationships with women. Some commentators suggest that this verse isn’t so much about David’s sexual orientation as it reflects the status of women in ancient Israel. Marriages were often arranged and love was not a significant factor in many male- female relationship. So a man’s “love” for a woman may have been restricted to progeny and sexual satisfaction and not as much a deep personal relationship.

2:1-5:5 The Gift of the Kingdom:

2:1-11 David becomes King at Hebron: As always, the king’s death leaves a void and the struggle over who will succeed. David, after asking God what to do, goes to Hebron and the people anoint him king. David’s wives are named, perhaps to emphasize David’s ties to the area of Hebron. The reader knows  that God has already anointed David. This anointing represents the peoples acceptance of David as ruler. At this point Judah is separated from Israel. ( Judah is the northern kingdom and Israel is the southern kingdom. As a memory aid notice this is alphabetical in English: I before J and N before S.) David recognizes and rewards  Israelites who bury Saul with favor and friendship. He also reminds them that he is king of Judah and they have no king as yet. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, appears to have power but not the claim to the throne. Abner makes Ishbosheth, apparently the last surviving son of Saul, king over Israel. Note the language, takes, brings and makes. Notice that God is not involved in this act. Ishbosheth means “man of shame.”

2:12-32 A Battle and a Blood Feud: The house of Saul and the house of David appear to be at war, although the text doesn’t tell us exactly why. We will need to continue reading 2 Samuel to learn why we are told this story. Abner (house of Saul) and Joab ( house of David) meet at the pool of Gibeon. Representative combat like this seems to have been widespread in the ancient near East. But then the battle appears to be wider in v 17. Asahel is chasing Abner and Abner tries to get Asahel to stop. When he can’t convince Asahel to stop, Abner kills him. Finally Abner is able to persuade Joab that they should stop fighting and then we are told the cost of the war.

3:1-5 David’s Sons: The war continues and we are given a list of sons.

3:6-39 The Death of Abner:Notice in this section how Abner is portrayed favorably and is not presented as a threat to David but rather understands David is to be king. Verses 6-11 are about the conflict between Abner and Ishbosheth. Historicall, sexual relations with the wife or concubine of a king was a way for someone to establish their right to the throne. Ishosheth accuses Abner and Abner is angry and, in effect, changes sides to support David. Verses 12-21 tell of Abner’s negotiations with David, Abner acts as a person with authority and power who can influence the tribes of Israel. David uses these negotiations to get Michal (Saul’s daughter) back as his wife. This also helps solidify David’s claim. David and Abner meet peacefully. Verses 22-27 tell of Abner’s death by Joab. Joab does not trust Abner and without telling David,Abner goes after Abner and kills him.  The story makes clear that David is innocent of the death of Abner. In verses 28-39 David curses Joab and laments the death of Abner. Interestingly, David does not kill Joab and Joab continues to be involved in David’s military. Was Joab too powerful or too influential for David to remove? Verse 39 suggests so. In verses 31-39 David mourns Abner and sings a lament for him. Abner is publicly identified at “wicked” and “violent”. It is interesting that both Joab and Abner act without the knowledge of their kings. This is a story of war but also political intrigue. Exactly what is going on is unclear, but certainly the situation is complex. Once again, notice how women are treated. Michal, again, is portrayed as little more than a pawn in the larger story.

4:1-12 The Death of Ishbosheth: Another death. This is a violent world. Ishbosheth is killed by kinsmen. Verse 4 seems out of place in this story and tells us that there is still a son in Saul’s line. Ishbosheth is killed and his head it taken to David. As before, David does not reward the killing of a king. Again the text wants to make clear that David does not incur any bloodguilt. Ishbosheth’s head is buried in Abner’s tomb.

What do these stories tell us about power, innocence, guilt, violence and politics? They present a complex story.


Read More About It:

Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 2 Samuel

Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.

Birch, Bruce C., “The First and Second Books of Samuel, in  The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.

Gunn, David M. “2 Samuel” in  HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.

McKenzie, Steven L, “2 Samuel”  in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition,  Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.

Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “2 Samuel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.